Hip Dysplasia in Cats

Hip dysplasia is a painful genetic deformity of the hips associated with larger breeds of dog. For a long time, vets didn't think that cats suffered from hip dysplasia. However, it's now been discovered that cats are vulnerable to this crippling disease as well.

Feline Hip Dysplasia Explained

In the normal feline hip, the ball head of the femur, or thigh bone, fits snugly into the acetabulum, or socket of the pelvic bone. The strong muscles of the hip hold the femur in place and the tight fit with the pelvic bone allows the joint to move smoothly and painlessly.

When feline hip dysplasia occurs, the hip joint becomes deformed in such a way that the femur doesn't fit into the acetabulum the way it should. The femur may be somewhat out of place, or it may be completely dislocated. Over time, this deformity causes chronic changes in the shape of the femur and degeneration of the cartilage in the hip joint. In severe cases of hip dysplasia, the joint can become so malformed that movement is impossible and the cat may suffer severe pain.

How Hip Dysplasia Affects Cats

Many cats with hip dysplasia never display symptoms. Because cats are small and usually much less active than dogs, the hip deformity remains mild. Often, vets discover feline hip dysplasia by accident, when they've taken X-rays for another reason, and then happen to notice the hip deformity in the course of making another diagnosis. Cats with mild cases of hip dysplasia may live out their lives without suffering from pain or reduced mobility.

Cats who suffer from more severe hip dysplasia may display the following symptoms:

  • Stiffness
  • Lameness in the hind legs
  • Unwillingness to jump, climb or play

In severe cases of hip dysplasia, cats may suffer chronic pain and significantly reduced mobility.

Risk Factors for Feline Hip Dysplasia

Feline hip dysplasia is a genetic disease, so cats who develop it have inherited it from their parents. Large breeds of cat, like the Maine Coon, are more vulnerable to the illness, but smaller breeds and even mixed breeds can develop it as well. Breeders use a screening process to ensure that kittens aren't born with a genetic predisposition to hip dysplasia.

Treating Feline Hip Dysplasia

Mild cases of feline hip dysplasia may never require treatment. If a dysplastic cat doesn't have pain and seems to be able to move freely, then treatment can be postponed.

Overweight or obese cats with hip dysplasia should be encouraged to lose weight. Excess weight puts pressure on the joints, increasing pain and exacerbating changes in the shape of the hip bones. Nutritional supplements, like glucosamine and chondroitin, can be used to help regenerate lost cartilage in the hip joint, though these supplements can't cure the disease, as joint deformity means that cartilage deteriorates faster than the body can replace it. Anti-inflammatory and pain relieving medications can help ease the symptoms of hip dysplasia.

Cats with very severe hip dysplasia may undergo a surgical procedure called a femural head and neck excision arthroplasty. This procedure changes the shape of the femur to allow it to fit securely into the hip socket.